Eugene Robinson: Sotomayor, North Korea, Obama World or Cheney World, More

Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, May 26, 2009 1:00 PM

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson was online Tuesday, May 26 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his recent columns, including today's, Worldviews Collide: Obama or Cheney? It's Your Choice, as well as the latest news.


Eugene Robinson: Hi, everyone. Busy news day -- my first day back from vacation, and all hell breaks loose. The column is about the different realities and I call Obama World and Cheney World. But meanwhile, the North Koreans are lobbing missiles left and right while they celebrate their recent nuclear test. And the big news of the day, of course, is President Obama's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Lots to talk about, so let's get it started.


Providence, RI: Eugene, I wish you would comment on the fact that, for eight years of Cheney's vice presidency he apparently did not feel it was worth explaing his rationale to the American people for torture, rendition and the other transgressions. Now he won't shut up. Is he really talking to Americans or simply making trouble for Obama?

Eugene Robinson: He's talking to anyone who'll listen. I suspect there's a bit of trouble-making involved, but mostly I think it's an attempt at self-justification. Not working for me, but others will make their own judgments.


Boston: Most of the articles about the Cheney and Obama dueling speeches fail to provide the context that most of the tactics that Obama has denounced were actually stopped initially by the Bush administration. If things like waterboarding were so critical in keeping us safe from attack and we haven't waterboarding anyone since 2003/04 then why haven't we been attacked since that time? Has anyone asked Cheney that question? Was the Bush administration just lucky during his second term?

Eugene Robinson: Very good question. I'd love to hear his answer.


Tolland, Conn.: Thanks for taking the question. I simply can't understand why Cheney, Bush, et al. seem to have gotten a pass for advocating a foreign policy based on fear. Isn't the American myth based on strong-but-silent tough guys with hearts of gold? How on earth did the PR machine of the Republicans convince America that shooting first, torturing, and for goodness sake being afraid to take prisoners into their states, are all signs of wise and courageous leadership? Hasn't any of these folks ever read a book with good guys and bad guys, or seen a Western? I am genuinely baffled by this.

Eugene Robinson: Beats me. It's a bizarre kind of role-reversal, or image-reversal. I can't imagine Ronald Reagan looking into the camera and telling Americans, "Be afraid. Be very afraid."


Fairfax, Va.: How is President Obama's engagement policy with North Korea working out?

Eugene Robinson: About as well as President Bush's non-engagement policy worked out.


Herndon, VA: Mr. Robinson,

Your piece today seemed to imply that liberals such as Obama are more apt to make decisions based on "reasoning" and "fact" as opposed to conservatives like Cheney, who make them on imagination and feeling. How do you explain, then, President Obama's selection of a Supreme Court justice? He himself said he was looking for someone with empathy. The law is supposed to be dispassionate, based on logic, facts and reasoning, not empathy.

Eugene Robinson: I'll bet you'd be hard pressed to find a judge, at any level, who agrees with your view -- which is basically that we don't need judges at all, since you don't seem to believe in judging. Until someone writes a code of laws comprehensive enough to cover all of human behavior, empathy will remain an element of the judicial process.


Empathy: It seems to me that anyone opposing the quality of empathy in a judge would think that Solomon was wrong not to actually slice the baby in half.

Eugene Robinson: Well said.


Washington, D.C.: As an African American, do you get upset when certain elements in the Dem party, to deflect honest debate about a person's qualifications, cry racism?

The new nominee has said some pretty startling things and have take some positions that even Obama has said he is opposed to. Will we be able to have an honest debate, or will Democrats cry racism whenever someone questions her qualifications?

Eugene Robinson: I get upset when anyone deflects honest debate, but who's crying racism? Take an honest look at Judge Sotomayor's record, but if you hear a "startling" quote, read the whole opinion or the whole speech. Then decide.


Sewickley, Pa: Your column today scores a hat trick in my book (Go Pens)! Ever since my god daughter told me she thought she was right-winger I have been thinking about how to explain the difference between conservatism and liberalism. Now it's a moot point because she has grown up and seen the light-- she's the third generation of my extended family to forsake the GOP. How do you see the outcome in struggle between the Powell end of the Republican Party and the Cheney/Limbaugh side? Will the GOP have to lose several more elections to embrace change or will just one or two do?

Eugene Robinson: The Republican Party has to become more moderate or it dooms itself to increasing irrelevance. This is obvious to many party activists. But getting there is going to involve a bruising battle.


Indianapolis: What are our options in dealing with North Korea?

Eugene Robinson: I'm not aware that we have any good options, realistically. The only thing to do might be to get a new Security Council resolution, with new sanctions -- which the North Koreans will likely ignore. There seems to be a succession struggle going on in North Korea right now and there may be diplomatic openings depending on the outcome.


Princeton, N.J.: Poll after poll has shown the public supports Medicare for All by 2 to 1 margins. Yet we are told, "single payer ain't on the table." Why have reporters and columnists refused to cover the reason for this seeming paradox? Is it corruption?

Eugene Robinson: Not among reporters and columnists. We don't get to make the laws (unfortunately). Our elected representatives do that, and they say they aren't going down the single-payer road. People who want a single-payer system should let their senators and representatives know.


Culver City, Calif.: Brilliant!! And a welcome antidote to the depression I felt after reading the (also brilliant) summation of the Bush Regime in Vanity Fair.

How on Earth can we give the hook to the former VP, and get him off the stage? Or is it better to have him out in the open, rather than under some rock where he came from? Vanity Fair: An Oral History of the Bush White House

Eugene Robinson: He seems to intend to keep up this Grand Tour of the airwaves. At some point, I suspect, the Republican leadership will try its best to shove him off the stage.


Seattle: I'm bewildered, I don't know where to start this question.

Can the Republicans really believe Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh are their best choice for spokesmen and policy makers? Is it really that hard for them to find someone with more . . . modern . . . ideas to come forward? Have they really succeeded in driving the Bill Scrantons and Nelson Rockefellers out of the party?

And, my real question, who will be the William F Buckley of the 21st century?

Eugene Robinson: I'm bewildered, too. I'm convinced that the Republican Party will come to its senses, eventually. But that might take a few years. William F. Buckley wouldn't be ideologically pure enough for the current party leadership in Congress.


Philadelphia: Gene, is the last few weeks of non-stop Cheneyism just the latest example of his personal cowardice? Five deferments to avoid Vietnam...conducting his vice presidency in a cone of silence and with no transparency...not seeking the GOP nomination in 2008 when he could have participated in the national debate on the future of our country, and then standing on the sidelines heckling the real players. He seems to always want to shape events without putting anything personally at stake...

Eugene Robinson: Similar thoughts have crossed my mind. Then I remind myself that he has spent most of his life in public service, and I have to applaud that. Then I remind myself of his Halliburton interlude, and I feel considerably less charitable.


Dallas: What's the real reason, in your view, for Dick Cheney's recent media offensive? Is it just out of self-justification and because the media bookers are happy to have him on, or have the Republicans really calculated (if so, somewhat delusionally, I would say) that his outspoken visibility will help them regain the upper hand on their main issue of national security? After all, he left office with an approval rating in the teens - I would venture to say he mostly reminds people of the last eight years, and not in a good way. Isn't there a case he's really mainly making Obama look even better by comparison?

Eugene Robinson: If Dick Cheney's media tour is part of a deliberate Republican strategy, then the party is in even worse shape than I had thought.


Arlington, Va.: Preventive detention: Will it fly?

Eugene Robinson: Not very high or very far with me, probably. I guess there will probably be some kind of semi-legitimate process to determine who gets held and who doesn't, but I don't know how you can clean up the basic fact of detaining people -- not classified as prisoners of war -- without charge or conviction.


Fairfax, Va.: "In Obama World, choices are artifacts of reasoning and thus are only as valid as the logic underlying them."

Kindly explain al Qaeda. Or Kim Jong Il. Perhaps we would like to make our choices based on reasoning and logic but our adversaries do not.

Eugene Robinson: Don't all mothers say at some point: "What do you mean, 'Everybody's doing it?' If everybody jumped off a cliff, would you do that too?"

If al Qaeda and Kim Jong Il are crazy, does that mean we have to be crazy too?


Eugene Robinson: My time is up for today, folks. Thanks for tuning in, and I'll see you again next week.


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